How One Designer's Shoes Empower Women Around The World

Photographed by Erica Gannett.
When designer Aurora James moved to New York from Los Angeles in January 2011, the city was a different place — and she was a different person. Wanting to be closer to her hometown of Toronto, James found herself in a massive, open, and affordable live-work space in Bed-Stuy, ready to start her now CFDA-recognized sustainable footwear label, Brother Vellies.

The mission of Brother Vellies was simple: to create shoes and sandals in styles that "maintain the spirit and durability of their ancestral counterparts" in Africa, its website notes. To connect more deeply with her roots, James frequently travels to countries like South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Morocco, sourcing materials like Kudu leather and indigo and working with local artisans to craft the final product. The result is not only out-of-this-world cool — it's actually making a difference.

We talked with James in her expertly curated Brooklyn studio-slash-home, to learn more about her sourcing practices, her hesitancy to be labeled "sustainable," and the time her neighbors thought she was crazy. (Hint: Her out-there shoes had something to do with it.)